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Russia Under the Old Regime


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Auguste Comte's theories of the evolution of human development


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In the Opuscules Comte observed that contemporary society is in a stage of transition. Medieval society, which was dominated by theological and miliataristic thinking is giving way to scientific and industrial society. Science is acquiring the spiritual power formally possessed by priests. Industrialists are in a sense replacing warriors in the social order. These processes are inevitable and determined. The function of sociology is to demonstrate that the transition is inevitable and to promote the realization of this new order. According to Comte the human mind progresses through three stages of development. The first is fetishism in which man endows all phenomena with consciousness like his own. This is the spontaneous thinking of the human mind. The second stage is metaphysics, in which the mind explains phenomena by invoking a power outside phenomena such as 'nature'. The third stage is positivism, in which man establishes the law-like character of relations between phenomena without seeking to comprehend their essences, which is a problem that he now realizes is beyond his intellect to solve. So the destiny of man's evolution is positivism. However, at any one stage of development not all thought is at the positivistic stage. For example, in his day Comte saw mathematics, astronomy, physics and chemistry as being at the positivist stage, but thought that the other sciences had not yet arrived at that stage. He believed that progress would arrive at the founding of a positive science of society - in other words, sociology. Yet, regarding social phenomena, it was impossible to understand them except in relation to the whole, just like it is impossible to understand the function of an organ except in relation to the body as a whole. Since society is in transition, this entails that society can only be understood in relation to the history of society - that is, the history of the human race as a whole. So sociology studies the history of the human race. Comte believed that the contemporary society he lived in was in a crisis. To overcome this crisis the function of the sociologist would be to create a new system of scientific ideas that would govern a new social order. For Comte, science would resolve the crisis and result in the development of a new social order. Society will be united by the shared belief between individual members of society in science. Comte believed that industrial society of Western Europe would eventually become universal throughout the world. Industrial society shows that the scientific organization of labour results in further prosperity and accumulation of capital; thus, every other society would be forced to imitate it. Comte also believed that positive thinking in science would also become universal. For example, mathematics, physics and medicine have become universal in the sense that all societies accept them. So Western science is the science of all mankind. The universal character of belief will come more and more to predominate, since positivism must extend progressively to all forms of thinking - including religion and politics. Whilst Comte did see industry as central to society, he did not agree that conflict in society was an inevitable consequence of this. In other words, he regarded conflict between the owners of production (the bourgeoisie) and labour (the proletariat) as manifestations of bad organization. However, whilst upholding the social order and defending the existence of inequalities, Comte did not regard free enterprise as essential to the new society that he predicts; on the contrary he sees it as a temporary stage in the progress towards a utopia defined by positive science. However, Comte sides with capitalism in the sense that he does not regard class struggle as inevitable. Comte readily defended the virtues of the private ownership of concentrated wealth. He regarded such concentration of wealth as the inevitable consequence of the historical law that each generation bequeaths to the next more capital than it inherited. He did not anticipate that industry would or should be nationalized. He regarded leadership as inevitably the province of an elite. However, Comte also believes in a spiritual hierarchy between people that in a sense transcends the economic and material hierarchy. This 'spiritual' hierarchy is another reason why inequalities in wealth can be tolerated; the spiritual hierarchy makes them irrelevant. This spiritual or moral order is based on devotion to altruistic impulses. Thus, any person, no matter what position he occupies, may gain a high rank in this order and each individual should strive for a high rank in this order of merit. Comte believed that in industrial society each person's rank would be based on his merits, and would be accepted as such regardless of his material circumstances. Comte did attempt to describe his vision of utopia, but this has been ridiculed. Raymond Aron in his Main Currents of Sociological Thought comments that in this respect, Comte "made an exact diagram of his dreams, or of the dreams each of us may invent in those moments when he takes himself for God." Comte believed that the positive society founded on industry would be a peaceful one, since war has no function in industrial society. However, in this respect, history has proven him wrong. Comte in his Cours de Philosophie Positive paid tribute to Montesquieu's positing of a principal of determinism in regard to history. He also adopted the notion of progress from the philosophy of Condorcet - the idea that the progress of the human mind equates to the evolution of society. In combining the two he has developed a quasi notion of providence, and in a sense "we see how the man who is regarded as the founder of positivism can also be described as the last disciple of Christian or theological providentialism." The history of the evolution of consciousness is necessary because positivism cannot be the thinking of man in his infancy. However, the progress towards positivism occurs because from the beginning certain phenomena have been explained successfully by means of positivistic science and the contradiction between the part positivistic, part fetishistic thinking generates momentum towards the final stage of universal positivism. Comte also seeks in Cours de Philosophie Positive to account for the divergence between different nations. These he attributes to natural differences in race and climate, and also to variances in "political action". Regarding the individual and society, Comte is keen to deny that individuals have any influence over the ultimate destiny of mankind. They can accelerate or impede progress, but they cannot alter it. He analyses the career of Napoleon Bonapart in these terms, exposing him as a sovereign who failed to understand historical progress, and hence left no permanent mark on history. His final phase of development, expressed in Système de Politique Positive is based on his distinction between 'statics' and 'dynamics'. Statics examines the social consensus at a given time in society, and dynamics examines the progression of successive human societies. In Système he divides statics into two parts - the structure of the human mind, and the structure of society. He essentially divides human nature into two - heart and mind. Action proceeds from the heart, and action is ultimately without reference to the mind. Comte believed that these different aspects of human nature had different locations in the brain - the mind was located towards the front of the brain, and the emotions towards the back and more directly connected to the motor organs. Whilst the mind does not govern action, it is still the highest part of human nature, and provides man with the opportunity to comprehend is own nature. He concludes with a conception of religion in the new positivistic order. Society will continue to need religion. However, the new religion will be a religion of humanity. It will be expressed in the works of the most altruistic men who embody essential humanity. It will a form of religion based on altruistic love. This last development in his thinking shows the curiosity of how a philosophy based on extolling the virtues of science can lead into a form of mysticism. Whilst this philosophy is avowedly atheistic, there is a belief expressed in it in the spiritual evolution of mankind. That belief in a spiritual destiny of mankind, paradoxically founded on material determinism, is wedded to the notion that Science (with a capital 'S') will reveal the path to mankind.
Contents of
Russia Under the Old Regime

1 Russia Under the Old Regime: The Peasantry
2 Positivism and Auguste Comte
3 What is positivism? Ian Hacking, Introduction to Scientific Revolutions
4 Russia Under the Old Regime: Dvorianstvo
5 Auguste Comte's theories of the evolution of human development
6 Russia Under the Old Regime: The Missing Bourgeoisie
7 Russia Under the Old Regime: The Church as Servant of the State
8 Herbert Spencer
9 Russia Under the Old Regime: The Intelligentsia
10 Twentieth Century positivism, Ernst Mach
11 Russia Under the Old Regime: Towards the Police State
12 Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutation

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